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DO 20% OF U.S. DRIVERS REALLY WANT AN ELECTRIC VEHICLE?

by Allen L Phillips

A AAA survey suggests that 20% of U.S. drivers may want an electric vehicle.  Not a hybrid but an electric.  You have to plug it in.  It has a limited range that gets worse in cold weather.  I’m sure you can sense my skepticism.

The survey specifically found that 40 million Americans are ”likely to consider an electric car for their next purchase, with millennials leading the way”.  At the same time AAA acknowledges what they call the “gap between interest and action” which they attribute to a lack of knowledge about the technology.

What we are talking about is Plug-in Electric Vehicles (PEV).  This category includes plug-in hybrids, most of which are designed to operate in electric mode for up to about 25 miles, after which they operate as a regular hybrid with the engine starting as needed to charge the batteries.  Thus, on a short commute they act like an electric car.

At the end of 2018 there were a million PEV’s in the U.S., more than half of those in California.  In fact most of the PEV’s are concentrated in the pacific states plus Arizona and Colorado. 

What’s goosing sales in those states?  In a word, incentives.  In addition to federal tax credits, at least 37 states plus Washington D.C. offer varying tax and/or fee exemptions, utility rate breaks and other incentives such as free parking and HOV lane access.   Another factor is “PEV Readiness” which means available infrastructure (charging stations) along with favorable city/county codes and electric rates for at home charging plus some cities also add financial incentives.  In general, the states that provide the most incentives have the most PEV’s.  If you build it they will come.

PEV battery systems are less efficient in extreme weather which affects the vehicle’s range (miles between charges).  Studies have found that in temperatures below 20 degrees range is reduced by 40%.  That means an electric car with a typical range of 200 miles could be limited to 120 miles during a cold snap.  In temperatures above 95 degrees the loss is 17%.  But only part of the problem is that batteries become less efficient in extreme temperatures.  The added electrical load from the use of climate control (air conditioning and heating) to keep passengers comfortable may be the biggest factor.

In spite of those limitations, cold weather cities like Washington, DC, Baltimore, New York City, and Denver as well as warm weather spots like Austin, Houston, Ft. Worth, Dallas and Phoenix are touting their PEV Readiness.  In fact, the top 5 cities in PEV Readiness are Portland OR, Washington DC, Baltimore MD, New York City and Denver CO.  Los Angeles comes in at number 6, Chicago is 8th and San Francisco 10th.

So will 20% of people really buy a PEV?  NO!  The gap between interest and action will surely grow as people gain more knowledge about the technology, its limitations as well as the incentive programs.  For example, federal tax credits, thought to influence as much as 30% of PEV sales, are limited to the first 200,000 units produced by a manufacturer, after which credit is reduced every quarter until it goes to zero 15 months later.

Tesla reached the limit in July 2018 so credits for their cars are phasing out now and will be gone by the end of this year.  General Motors reached their limit in November 2018 so their credits will end in mid-2020.  Nissan will be the next to limit out.  While there may have been discussions at the federal level about extending the credits I am not aware of it. 

Click on the link below to read the article that prompted this rant.

 https://www.ratchetandwrench.com/articles/6276-aaa-study-20-percent-of-us-drivers-want-an-electric-vehicle

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